On June 11th 2005, Boyle man Risteard Lloyd suffered a life threatening injury which left him in a coma for almost two weeks after he fell off his motorbike near Koh Samui, an island off the west coast of Thailand. While travelling along a gravel track which are the norm in rural areas of Thailand, Risteard’s bike lost control and in doing so his body was flung towards a nearby ditch.
Suffering injuries including a punctured lung, lacerations to his knees, fingers and arms and having split open the back and side of his skull, the then 28-year-old was found by an unknown passer-by. “I have absolutely no recollection of the accident”, says Risteard. “I had ripped all the skin from my shoulder down my back and my spine was showing. My lung had burst and had swollen because it was full of blood and the back and side of my head had opened up.” The incident has left the now 35-year-old with no recollection of the time between the accident and arriving back in the north west of Ireland. “My memories prior to what happened are living in India, going from India on a flight on the night of my birthday and from about the second week in Thailand I cannot remember anything at all. All I know is that I came off the bike nearby a shooting range in Koh Samui and was found by a man who saw my bike lying on the side of the road. He didn’t see me at all until he went over to pick up the bike, he saw my feet sticking out of the ditch.”
Risteard was brought from the scene to a local hospital where a specialist surgeon removed all foreign bodies from his brain. He had suffered ABI (Acquired Brain Injury) and spent ten days in a coma before he travelled to Beaumount Hospital via Bangkok and Paris. “I was in a ditch with water half way up my face lying unconscious so like any person who finds someone in my situation you think, ‘this man is dead’. The stranger got the police and they brought me down to the hospital.” Thus began a long and arduous road to recovery for both Risteard and his family.
After leaving Sligo General, Risteard was admitted to Roche’s Avenue in Dun Laoghaire to begin rehab. “I was in Roche’s for a little while, I can’t specifically remember and then I was let home for christmas 2005 to see how I would cope in my home environment.” Still needing constant care, Risteard relied on his parents John and Monica and siblings Gavin, Dervla and Siobhan and his friends to take care of him. “I couldn’t make tea, I couldn’t to anything. I relied on them 24 hours a day and I couldn’t be left alone.”
March 2006 saw Risteard return to Dun Laoghaire for six months to help him along his path to recovery. “This helped me rebuild aspects of my life from walking to money management and although I was getting better I didn’t really realise what was going on. If someone asked me what I was doing that day, I would tell them but then a minute later I would be questioning who that person is and why they were in front of me.” Subsequent to leaving Roche’s Avenue, Risteard returned back to Boyle in the autumn of 2006 with a return to employment at the very front of his mind. Unfortunately, he found returning straight back to a full-time job not so easy. “I thought I was fine, I felt fine but my family knew I couldn’t do it. So they let me go back to find out for myself and by the end of the first week it was like a sledgehammer to the back of the head when it hit me that I just couldn’t work full-time. Trying to go down a hill with a 40 ton truck and trying to remember where I’m going and where I was told to go was a struggle. I think I was lucky that I had that bit of insight and that I could figure out so quickly that I just wasn’t up to it.”
Having assessed his options for the future, Risteard heard about the National Learning Network (NLN) in Sligo, a training organisation which is funded by Rehab and FAS. The NLN helps those who may find it difficult to gain employment to develop skills to assist them in doing so. “I found about the NLN and the manager Sharon Thornton helped me to decide what course to take and which one would suit me best. It was such an amazing place to be and although my course in computer applications and skills was demanding, the staff explained everything to me so well and in a way I understood. I learned so much at the NLN and that says alot for the great work the staff did and still do.” It was here that he met Joe Nevin who was so intrigued by the story of Risteard’s recovery, he encouraged the Boyle man to put his story to paper. “He (Joe) asked me would I consider publishing my story to inspire other people in your situation so I did exactly that. The reason why I am putting out this story is that I hope that my story can give light to other families and individuals who will think well, if this fellow can do it, then why can’t I?”
Speaking to Risteard, one gets a sense that not even he can believe his own amazing recovery. Despite suffering serious life threatening injuries, he does not currently receive any treatment or medication and the last time he went for a check-up for his injuries was late 2009. “Of course if anything came up such as a seizure of whatever then I would have to be looked at straight away. Thankfully the angels on my shoulder have been looking after me.” Even after a life changing event, Risteard says he has absolutely no regrets about what happened. “I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason even if they are hard to make sense of at the start. If someone gave me ten million Euro and said you can take care of your family and friends and you can go back and change anything in your life, I wouldn’t go near it because of the person I have become and the people have met over the last two years in particular.”
Finally, Risteard encourages anyone who plans on travelling in the near or not so near future to do one thing. He says: “Do not be scared to put that extra two or three hundred Euro on your travel insurance. I thought when I left for Thailand that I was an experienced traveller and I laughed at my sister when she asked me about being insured. We are not invincible and I found that out the hard way.” The cost of Risteard’s medical bills spiralled out of his family’s control and he had to rely on the good will of the people of Boyle and the surrounding areas. “I was on that life support machine for nearly two weeks, costing €8,500 to €10,000 per day and was told if you cannot pay, they pull the plug.”
Risteard’s inspiring story entitled ‘A Different Light, But A New Light’ is available to read in full on ABI Ireland’s website www.abiireland.ie